Three Tory MPs have resigned from the party to join an independent group, set up by former Labour MPs.
Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen wrote a joint letter to Theresa May to confirm their departure.
The three held a press conference, criticising the government for letting the “hard-line anti-EU awkward squad” take over the party.
The PM said she was “saddened”, but her party would “always offer… decent, moderate and patriotic politics”.
The pro-Remain trio will join the new Independent Group – made up of eight Labour MPs who resigned from their party over its handling of Brexit and anti-Semitism – saying it represented “the centre ground of British politics”.
- LIVE: Reaction as Tory MPs split from party
- In full: Tory MPs’ resignation letter
- Minor tremor or political earthquake?
- Eighth MP quits Labour for Independent Group
At a press conference on Wednesday, Ms Soubry criticised Theresa May for being “in the grip” of the Democratic Unionist Party and the pro-Leave European Research Group, and allowing Brexit to “define and shape” the Conservative Party.
She said: “The battle is over, the other side has won.
“The right wing, the hard-line anti-EU awkward squad that have destroyed every leader for the last 40 years are now running the Conservative Party from top to toe. They are the Conservative Party.”
Ms Wollaston said she felt “great sadness” at quitting the party, but said Mrs May “simply hasn’t delivered on the pledge she made on the steps of Downing Street to tackle the burning injustices in our society”.
And Ms Allen highlighted her concerns around poverty, as well as Brexit, saying: “I can no longer represent a government and a party who can’t open its eyes to the suffering endured by the most vulnerable in society – suffering which we have deepened whilst having the power to fix.”
The three MPs said they will support the government on areas such as the economy, security and improvements to public services, and Ms Soubry defended the record of the coalition government – including the “necessary” austerity measures taken by chancellor George Osborne.
But they felt “honour bound to put our constituents’ and country’s interests first” over Brexit.
Watched by the eight other members of The Independent Group on the front row at the press conference, Ms Allen said she was “excited” about the future, adding: “I want to be part of something better, a party that people vote for because they want to, not because they feel they have to.”
The departure of the three MPs – who all support the People’s Vote campaign for another EU referendum – has reduced the government’s working majority to nine MPs, and Ms Allen claimed there were “absolutely” other colleagues “keen” to join the group.
And the Independent Group now has more MPs in Parliament than the Democratic Unionist Party and equals the number of Liberal Democrats. BBC News